Monday, May 16, 2011

Do It, Rockapella!

by Amy K. Bredemeyer

A friend told me not long ago that she remembers the first lie she ever told her parents. I was intrigued. I have no idea what the first lie I told my parents was. I'm not even sure how old I was... I know I was lying somewhat regularly by age 9... because I lied a lot. My siblings did, too. Psychologists would probably attribute our lying to the fact that our parents lied all the time. And, we knew they lied... some were too obvious not to see through. And, one specific lie I told was about Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? I remember telling my dad that I was supposed to watch it for school. I said this so that I got to watch what I wanted, which meant my brother didn't get to see his show. This was only the second grade or so, as I followed it near its inception, which was September 1991. But I loved this show.

Geography was "my thing" in second grade, as my elementary school gave prizes and great recognition to those who knew their American geography. I was very jealous of one specific girl, Katie, who was in my Brownie troop. She had more geography stickers than anyone else in school... her map (which was in a corridor) showed that she knew all of the state birds, trees (it might have been flowers), and nicknames, among other things. I only had marks for geographic location, capital, and abbreviation (though I was pretty proud of capitals). In 7th grade, we learned geographic locations and capitals throughout Europe, Africa, and Australia as well... though I wasn't the biggest fan of that teacher, I loved the class. Geography hasn't gotten me anywhere (I didn't know geography bees existed until well after I would have been too old to compete), but I must attribute a good deal of my knowledge to bits I learned on Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? That, and the fabulous glowing globe that my grandparents got me when I was eight or nine. :) 

Brief history: This was a kids' game show that ran on PB from 1991-1995, with reruns continuing only a year afterward. 296 episodes were made, and one remains unaired... apparently the original girl in the final round broke her arm during taping. The show was created partly because National Geographic found out that Americans were bad at geography... one in four people apparently couldn't point out the Pacific Ocean! So, this show promoted geography to youngsters... kids aged 10-14 made up the majority of the contestants. And, the winner got to go with a parent and a guest to another location within the US for a week... sweet prize for a kids' show! After five years, the show was revamped to Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego? and several games were made based on the show as well. Oh, and perhaps one of the neatest things about the show... the theme song was sung live, by an a capella group, Rockapella.

The game: Three rounds, like many shows are. Three contestants, called "gumshoes" since they were technically solving a crime committed by one of Carmen's henchmen (like Vic the Slick or Double Trouble). Early episodes required contestants to reside in the NYC metro area, and was shot in Manhattan, then Queens. Later on, there were nationwide competitions to find contestants. The first round started each player with $50 in ACME Crime Bucks. Then, we'd see some sketches to describe how a member of Carmen's gang stole something (generally things that would be impossible to steal - like convention centers or islands), and where it might be. There'd be some multiple choice questions worth 5 points each, and later we'd have "The Chase" where the clues would be about places near one another, "chasing a path," as it were. There'd be a map with three locations, and the contestants guessed where the crook was, winning 10 bucks if they guess correctly. The round ended kinda like Jeopardy!, with contestants making a wager (in increments of $10, up to $50), and answering a question based on another skit. The two people with the highest monetary amount moved on to the next round. There, you'd see a board with fifteen landmarks. 12 of them had nothing behind them... the remaining ones had "the loot," "the warrant," and "the crook." On your turn you called out a landmark, and the space behind it was revealed. If it had one of the key items behind it, you got to guess again. Otherwise, the other person went. The goal was to reveal the loot, the warrant, and the crook in that exact order to win (and yes, someone actually won once without the other person even getting a chance!). The winner of the round went on to The Map. The crook would call the contestant on the phone (since s/he was in jail by that point, they were ratting on Carmen), and say what continent she was in. Then, the Chief would give give 13 possible locations that Carmen may have traveled to. Greg, the host, would read off a location and the gumshoe would run to it with a post and place it there. If it was correct, the post lit up with a siren and the gumshoe ran for another. If it was wrong, they moved it and tried again. After two misses, they were forced to move on. They need to get 8 right (only 7 in the first season) in 45 seconds (sometimes 60 if they were doing the GIANT Asia map) to win a trip of their choice. If you didn't win, you got consolation prizes, like an atlas, a watch, a subscription to National Geographic, a camera, a pocket translator, or a boombox. The amount of Crime Bucks you had earned became spending money for the trip. Here's a clip of the second and third rounds, complete with the winner (sleuth) and Greg shouting the famous "Do, It, Rockapella!" to start off the live end credits. (Remember, it's 1992, so quality isn't the greatest)

Notable changes to the way the game is played:  In the first season, winners could only go someplace throughout the continental United States, but later it was expanded to allow for anywhere in North America. In seasons 4 and 5, you could pick your hotel, too. You got a rental car after the second season. The maps in the final round changes as well. Landmarks and bodies of water were added as placed you might need to identify. The US map changed to North America in Season 3. The prize money also increased several times. And, not to the way it was played, but in the way it was aired, they had to add in a little disclaimer about the "geography being accurate at the time of taping." I mean, after all, the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union were hot geographical topics back then!

Special contestants: One episode in Season 2 had celebrity pairings, featuring Ben from Growing Pains, Ashley from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and the title character from Blossom. Otherwise, I can't say there there were any "special contestants," per se.

Favorite Rounds:  I loved "The Map." I think a lot of kids did. It was a thrilling 45 seconds, and I was often impressed with the knowledge that others had about where the teeniest countries were (like the kid that beat Africa above). I thought that the posts looked kinda heavy, though I guess they couldn't have been, in retrospect. It always upset me when the kid would fail at big US states... those should be super easy!!

My take: So, while I was pretty well-versed in geography as a second-grader, by the time I could compete, I don't know how I'd compare to others my age. At 10 or 11, I was probably just above average. At 12 or 13, I could probably have been a good competitor, but I couldn't tell you for sure. My map skills for Asia and Africa in particular were weaker... I was better at knowing capitals, general locations, etc. If the game was available for adults, bring it on! I adored the geography games that were popular on facebook for a while a couple years ago, and played for hours, trying to beat the scores of my friends. Geography is undervalued in game shows... it would be nice for something similar to come on again! What about you? Did you watch Carmen Sandiego? Did you have the computer game? (I didn't, since we didn't have a pc until 1998 and it was out of style by then.) Would your geography skills have served you well on the show when you were 10-14?
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